Friday, December 18, 2009

I really wasn't kidding when I referred to a 5-year old's dance recital

As a visual reference to my post on what an ad-hoc Chinese talent show would entail, I managed to dig up a photo that pretty much sums it all.  Thanks, "Little Wang" and "Little Tang," for making good use of my camera.  And yes, that is a heart the two "dancers" in the front are making with their arms.

Kind of like the Chinese version of fondue

Hotpot dinner a few days ago with my two roommates, one roommate's sister, and her sister's friend


During: delicious, spicy, oily, MSG-laden bubbling broth

Aftermath: the sign of a good meal

So fresh and so clean, clean

Reason #5,927,253 why I am sometimes completely baffled by my Chinese colleagues and roommates: They brush their teeth before breakfast.  And not in the "I am leaving to go to work and am planning to stop and get coffee en route, so I am going to brush my teeth before I leave the house" kind of way.  Rather, the insistence on brushing one's teeth before breakfast is to such an extreme extent that as I sat down to have a bowl of spicy noodle soup with my roommates for breakfast this morning, one of them--right before taking a bite--jumped up, said '"Oh! I have to brush my teeth," then ran off to the bathroom.  Umm, ok, 1)if OJ tastes disgusting after brushing teeth, there is no way that spicy food doesn't taste rank (even Tom's of Maine doesn't make mint-chili pepper flavor), and 2)YOUR TEETH ARE GOING TO BE DIRTY AGAIN AFTER YOU EAT, thus defeating the purpose of brushing them in the first place.

Their reason for doing so was that "Chinese people brush their teeth before eating." Right.  I figured that out already.  Since I default to "foreigners have different habits" on a near-daily basis as a means for explaining my apparently puzzling behavior, however, I just nodded and let it slide.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Let's Learn English!

The director of my NGO loves to learn, then incessantly repeat, super random English words and phrases. Yesterday it was "Mercedes Benz." Last week, when we were out in the countryside doing fieldwork, it was the following:

Talent Shows, Chinese Style

This past week we helped host a 5-day training seminar for over 40 NGO workers from organizations throughout China. The workshops were actually some of the most impressive I've seen since I've been here, as there was a lot of role playing, hands-on observation of projects, and discussion of the fact that any NGO has to cooperate extensively with the local government from the idea phase, throughout implementation, and all the way through to project conclusion. In fact, it is impossible to carry out any poverty alleviation or rural development project without approval and oversight from the local party officials.

Last night, at the conclusion of the training seminar, there was a "talent show," which proved to be far more entertaining to me than any of the hours-long info sessions in Chinese that I attended. I honestly felt like I was at a 6 year old's birthday party. First of all, anything anyone did was basically terrible--at least 5 people went up in front of everyone, sang in an awful voice, forgot the lyrics after about 8 lines, and promptly laughed and went back to his or her seat. If the performers didn't sing, they instead did a dance which largely resembled something I might have done in a dance recital when I was 5. Second, everyone there would literally drag individuals up to the front of the room and force them to "perform," despite their protests. Once up there, however, the performer would get into it and everyone in the audience would clap and sing loudly along with them. Finally, I, of course, was made to perform because 90% of the people there had never interacted with an actual foreigner before and wanted me to do something in English. My colleague actually suggested I give them a proper, native-English-speaker rendition of the ABCs. I am not even kidding. Instead, I went up there and was like "OK, I picked a song that I think some of you may know the words to and can sing along with me." And then I sung Happy Birthday. Thus making it seem even more like a birthday party for my 4 year old nephew.

All in all, however, it was good for a laugh and did make me appreciate that Chinese people love any opportunity to get together with friends, and don't need any music, alcoholic drinks (though they love those too), or fancy venues to have a good time.

The Asian Dennis The Menace?

My colleague's hair looks like this

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Case Studies

Following are a few case study write-ups I had to translate for the poverty alleviation project we recently finished up. I thought I'd copy and paste them here to give a bit of a glimpse into the common hardships of the Chinese farmer:

1. Sun Guo Chun (孙国春) is one of the farmers who received aid funds through our “Especially Impoverished Farmer” aid program. Sun Guo Chun lives in HuaXi township, Village #8, District #3. At 54 years of age, Guo Sun Chun is unable to work and earn money due to an injury he suffered in 1997: while working to break apart boulders for use in construction, road repair, etc., a large rock landed on him and the pressure broke his right leg. His leg did not heal properly and still gives him trouble when he does hard labor. His wife, 54 years of age, also suffers from health problems—she has uterine fibroids that cause her pain and discomfort, yet she cannot afford to seek a medical solution to the problem. Sun Guo Chen and his wife have one son and one daughter, though the daughter has already divorced and her ex-husband left her with their mute son. While Sun Guo Chun’s grandson can understand those who talk to him, he cannot speak and thus requires extra care. Finally, Sun Guo Chun’s son left the countryside to seek paid work in Guangzhou province, but has not returned home in over two years.

2. Li Dong Yun (李东远) is a farmer who received funds through the “Especially Impoverished Farmer” aid program. He lives in HuaXi township, Village #8, District #3. Li Dong Yun is 51 years of age and his been living by himself for over three years, since his wife became ill and passed away in 2006. He looks after himself, but his high blood pressure and poor vision prevent him from partaking in any income-generating activities. As a result, he lives in a very tiny and dilapidated home with large cracks and holes in the crumbling structure. His home only has a small bed, a table, and a couple other personal belongings as he cannot afford to buy anything. He has one son who is 28 years old and does paid labor in Zhejiang province, however it has been a few years since his son was last in touch with his father.

3. Ji Chang Long (纪昌龙) is a rural peasant living in HuaXi Township, Village #9, District #4 who has received money from the “Especially Impoverished Farmer” aid program that we conducted with China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation. At 47 years of age, Ji Chang Long lives by himself in a single room that is part of a courtyard dwelling shared with several other families. His room has only a bed and small table for his belongings, and has a gaping hole in one of the walls that he cannot afford to repair. This damage to his home will prove to be a huge burden during the cold winter months as the inside will be fully exposed to the elements. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible for Ji Chang Long to find any form of paid labor, as he suffers from slight mental disabilities. In 1990 he went to Beijing to seek work in construction, yet was swindled out of all his money by someone who accompanied him in seeking employment. Later, while in Beijing, he fainted and passed out at work, causing further damage to his mental awareness. While he can still cook food and generally look after himself, his brother often assists him as the only way to financially support himself is by collecting garbage.

Monday, December 07, 2009

More Chinese than Yao Ming

I finally succumbed to the peer pressure of my peers and now have QQ, the Chinese equivalent of AIM or Gchat which everyone and their Chinese grandmother has.  This might actually qualify me for citizenship.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Images of Rural China

A few photos I managed to snap while doing fieldwork last week:

An elderly couple relaying the story of their family’s living situation

Images of Chairman Mao still preside over many rural homes

A young girl in the village

Rural Poverty Issues

As I've described in previous posts, one of the main fieldwork projects I've been involved in at the NGO where I work has been one in which we're giving out cash grants to a number of particularly impoverished rural farmers, with funding we received from the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.  We've distributed money to 120 out of the total 300 households that will receive the grants, and met with local village leaders a couple weeks ago to receive nominations for the remaining 180 recipients. 

This past week, we returned to the countryside once again to conduct home inspections of the remaining 180 nominated recipients.  Because money tends to be scarce for almost everyone in the countryside, my colleagues want to ensure that we are giving the funds to those who need it most and that the nominees weren't recommended because they happen to be a friend or family member of the leader who nominated them, or because the parameters of the project weren't clear to those making the nominations.  We visit every home, look around the inside and take photos for later reference, talk to the resident to get a better understanding of his or her circumstances, and generally evaluate whether or not we agree that the person's situation is particularly difficult or impoverished. 

The home visits, while exhausting (I actually contemplating crying and refusing to work one damp, snowy day because I thought I might actually freeze to death), have been insightful and have shed tremendous light on some common situations in rural China.  The most prevalent phenomenon, by far, has been that of family members leaving their home to seek work in some of China's larger cities, as there is no way to earn an income from rural subsistence farming.  While I was familiar with the sight of migrant construction workers toiling away on Beijing's highrise buildings, or the inflection of restaurant staff whose spoken Mandarin hinted at simple origins in a distant province, I was never fully aware of the extent to which this phenomenon occurs.  In every single household we visited, the majority of the working-age family members (those over 18 years of age up to those who were not yet grandparents--roughly in their 50s) had left the countryside to seek work in other cities and provinces.  Guangdong and Xinjiang provinces were particularly popular markets for their manufacturing and coal mining industries, respectively.  Still others had headed for Beijing, Zhejiang Province, and Shenzhen, to seek construction work, restaurant work, or a host of other odd-jobs.  The workers send monthly remittances back to their family members in the countryside, allowing for a cash flow into rural households.  However, it also leads to a situation in which many children are raised by their grandparents and only see their parents once annually, at the Chinese New Year holiday.  Spouses who work in different cities will also often rarely see each other; in extreme cases, some may even leave their families and never return home--a few households shared stories of parents who had left behind a sick or disabled child, who had met another partner while working in the city and divorced their spouse, or who had simply left to work in the city, never to be heard from again.